Best Practice

How Culture Rehumanizes or Dehumanizes Business

A short disclaimer: I spent over 20 years leading in non-profit work before leading culture in a for-profit business impacting over 3,000 employees spread across 42 states. Most of what I experienced in non-profit work translated well to what I now do.

One of those experiences is how to build a culture that engages people on a soul level. The following are some truths I’ve learned in leading culture that can help to rehumanize your business:

All of us want to matter.

As we embark on building a culture that re-humanizes our business, we have to answer a most imperative question, “Who are we really building for?”

Most organizations become intentional with their culture only after discovering that culture matters to their future success. When leaders only care about building a culture for their own benefit, their efforts are usually met with skepticism by those they are leading.

The consequence of building a culture for the business rather than for the people who work in that business results in building a culture of distrust.

I believe every human wakes up every day subconsciously asking, “How will I matter today?” And we all go about our day seeking fulfillment and meaning for who we are and what we do. If we consider that work takes up 1/3 of our lives, then it makes sense that building an engaging culture takes creating spaces for people to know that their contribution matters and their passion is valued.

We find our calling when our greatest passion collides with our greatest contribution to make the world better.

Calling always trumps career.

I matter most when I know my impact and can connect that impact to a need I am contributing to meet. When I ask teachers, EMT’s, policemen and policewomen why they do what they do many times the answer is similar, “I feel like it’s my calling.”

Here’s my question–Why can’t we all feel a sense of calling no matter what we do for a living? I truly believe we can build a culture that engages people when we help to connect what they do with a greater why.

Our why is a higher purpose that can only be realized when we know that what we do (a list of tasks) affords us the opportunity to live our passion.

Organizations typically focus on job or career development. Imagine what positive results would come by focusing on an employee’s sense of calling!

How can this be achieved? What 20 years of non-profit work taught me is that giving back and doing good for others is paramount to building a culture where everyone feels engaged and valued. I’m not suggesting hosting a one-day event of doing good or what I call “sporadic care”.

Creating a consistent, predictable cadence of doing good in your organization with everyone involved builds a culture everyone will be proud of. A culture of doing good is just that…culture. It’s not a program stapled on the side of your business, but the very essence of why you exist in the first place!

Culture is a feeling… and culture is what most of us think and do most of the time.

Culture building takes everyone because culture is a consequence of what most of us think and do on a daily basis. Example: You can’t claim a culture of trust when most people in your organization don’t feel they can trust each other!

If most people feel that your culture sucks, it doesn’t matter what slogans you post on your website promoting how amazing your culture is. Simply put…”Your culture is what it is!” Whether you have been focusing on building your culture or not, it has been growing with or without your input. This is why I say, “Culture is a consequence, not a coincidence.”

If we want to start intentionally building the culture everyone can be proud of then we have to start with investing our time and resource in building a greater feeling of engagement in our business. Here are a few things I did in non-profit work that I find is needed desperately in for-profit business to build a culture that re-humanizes business:

  1. Sitting down with people and listening to them rather than depending on satisfaction surveys to know how people feel.
  2. Find the soul of your business (Why you exist, or your purpose) and do good as a norm rather than as the exception.
  3. Communicate your vision and values to everyone weekly rather than only at your annual leadership meeting.
  4. Make business decisions that consider the humans that work to make your business successful rather than decisions only based on P&L statements.
  5. Involve everyone in giving back rather than writing big checks from the CEO with a photo-op.

No matter what qualities we want in the culture we are attempting to build we should always be asking, “Is this re-humanizing or de-humanizing my business?”

When I create space for people to know that they matter, when I offer more than a career and focus on calling, and when I lead in a way that those I lead feel that their contribution and passions are valued – I will see the culture I can be proud of start to emerge.


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